Part I - Kanyakumari
22.10.2015 - 24.10.2015 31 °C
Our 450 mile round trip started with the five-hour treck down to the very tip of India. Although long, the journey was very picturesque alternating mountains, coconut trees, flat valleys and, as we got closer to Kanyakumari, more wind turbines than I have ever seen in my life - as far as the eye could see! The view from our hotel was brilliant - you could see (theoretically more than practically) where the three seas of the Bay of Bengal, the Indian Ocean and the Arabian Sea all meet...if you get on a boat and make a straight course south, there is nothing to stop you before reaching Antarctica - a pretty sobering, and not entirely unscary, thought somehow.
There was something about the beach front which felt very familiar, perhaps it's the tourist seaside feel - it was just like Clacton or Blackpool, really, just missing sticks of rock and kiss me quick hats, but there were plenty of cheap and cheerful souvenirs for anyone who wished to purchase them and (not quite) donkey rides:
The view from the coast is dominated by two small islands, one houses the Thiruvalluvar Statue and the other is the site of the Vivekananda Rock Memorial. It's possible to get a boat over to both islands, but we were visiting during Durga Puja festival which meant that there were hundreds of tourists clamering to get onto the islands and it would have taken at least 3 hours to queue, so we decided to try again on our way back home when the festival was over.
According to Wikipedia, "Durga Puja festival marks the victory of Goddess Durga over the evil buffalo demon Mahishasura(মহিষাসুর/ମହିଷାସୁର). Thus, Durga Puja festival epitomises the victory of Good over Evil." So, to celebrate this, a huge statue of Durga is made, carried through the town and, eventually, submerged into the sea.
Apart from the many stalls selling various clothing, food, ice creams and spices, there are a couple of permanent exhibitions and places of interest, so we decided to visit the Ghandi Memorial Hall which, whilst unassuming, had some interesting photographs of milestones in Ghandi's life. There is also a memorial stone where his ashes were kept and a hole in the ceiling through which, on Ghandi's birthday (2 October) each year, the sunlight shines down onto the stone.
After the heat of the day, I thought I'd take advantage of the hotel pool which was a welcome cool down. Whilst relaxing after my swim, Mum and I could hear peacocks calling to each other and looked at the land surrounding the hotel to see if we could spot them. On the dusty roof of a neighbouring building was a male who was displaying his feathers! We couldn't believe that he was giving such a beautiful display to, seemingly, no one and it was an excellent photo opportunity
Walking through the streets everywhere we've been, street food is on every corner, guys making all sorts of delicious looking treats. I've been told time and again I should be careful with eating street food, so I've yet to pluck up the courage to actually try any. We've had some really great South Indian food though - dosas, idlis, and vadas, we usually stop off in a restaurant on the way somewhere or sometimes in the town we're visiting for breakfast. Always accompanied by stares from locals not used to seeing white people eating Indian food! Usually served on metal plates covered with a banana leaf and several small pots of curries and chutneys for dipping the variously fried, steamed and boiled carbohydrates - it certainly makes for a filling breakfast...
On going for a pre-dinner walk through the town, next to the Our Lady of Ransom church (not the patron saint of kidnappers I don't think - joke credit Mark Stone), we came across a magical path with lights and flower garlands, when we followed it we came out to a big celebration, apparently in honour of Saint Anthony, which included the very Indian practice of throwing a match into a box of fireworks and watching them explode all over the place - health and safety is not a known concept it appears...
The return journey gave us a chance to stop off again to try to get on the boat to see the two islands and this time there were hardly any tourists. The Vivekananda Rock Memorial was built in honour of Swarmi Vivekananda who was a Hindu monk and it is said that he gained enlightenment on the rock. Vivekananda is credited with bringing many Hindu ideas, including yoga, to the Western world - so spare a thought for him when you're doing your best downward facing dog! There's also a museum in his honour in the town.
It's difficult to go anywhere in India without tripping over a guru, Goddess, holyman, prophet or saint. I'm starting to understand, even with my somewhat "cushioned" visit, why people come here to think about some of the big questions of where we came from and why. India embraces many different religions and ideas and seems to assimilate them as its own.